My Friend Martha

Today is the Memorial of St. Martha, friend to Jesus and sister to Lazarus and Mary.

We meet Martha in two primary episodes in the Bible: the first when Jesus is dining at the home of his friends, and the second when Jesus show up after the death of Lazarus.

The first episode is a short one. Luke tells us:

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feed listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

It is interesting that when Jesus chides Martha, he didn’t say, “Why can’t you just be like Mary?” (Something more than one parent or teacher has said about a child when comparing the child to a sibling.) I suspect Jesus knew Martha never could be Mary, just as Mary never could be Martha.

We do need to recognize at the outset that we are all different. We possess different gifts and personalities.  The common reaction to this Gospel episode, when Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part is to say what Jesus didn’t say: Silly Martha – she should have been more like her sister Mary.

But we need to remember something. It may be that she needed to let go of some worry and anxiety.  But here is a woman in a time when women didn’t speak up to men, and they certainly didn’t chastise them. Yet Mary has the boldness to speak her piece with Jesus. Many women of her time would have held their tongue. But Martha spoke what was on her mind, understanding that being in relationship with Jesus means speaking what is actually on our mind and in our heart. Not saying only what we think we are supposed to say.

We can’t move forward with God unless we are honest about what is troubling us. It may be that Martha’s point was misplaced; indeed, from Jesus’ reaction we know it was. But that doesn’t change that had she stayed silent, she would not have learned from Jesus. Only her honesty and courage in speaking up allowed her to do that.

So Martha represents honesty and boldness.

She also represents a take-charge organization and efficiency that the world could not operate without. Someone does have to do the cooking, change the sheets if Jesus and his friends are going to stay overnight. Someone had to make sure there is enough wine for everyone and so on. Martha, in the words of Joanna Weaver “is an administrator extraordinaire – a whirling dervish of efficiency with a touch of Tasmanian she-devil thrown in to motivate the servants.”

So we do need Mary’s receptivity and ability to just sit at Jesus’ feet.  But we also all need some Martha in us.

So on this day, let us learn from Martha – as well as from her sister Mary.




Pursue the Authentic

I saw the poem Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich posted as part of the Minnesota Institute of Art’s Exhibit of Native Women Artists.   It contains some good wisdom.

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Note: The MIA exhibit, Hearts of our People: Native Women Artists , will be open through August 18.  It is well worth a visit.

What Do We Stand For?

Today the United States celebrates Independence Day, the day we celebrate our birth as an independent nation.

It is a good day on which to ask ourselves what we stand for.

The most recognizable phrase we associate with the Statue of Liberty is

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We can’t make a claim we stand for those words, as we allow refugees and migrants to sit in unsanitary and unsafe conditions at our border, and allow children to be separated from their parents.

Our Declaration of Independence claims

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We certainly don’t stand for that – and even when those words were penned, they didn’t really mean every one.

We have a slogan of “one person, one vote) which supposedly means that one person’s voting power is roughly equivalent to another’s within the same state.  But gerrymandering and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters have given lie to that.

So what do we stand for?

I know what I stand for as a Christian.  But I no longer know what the United States stands for.  It certainly doesn’t mean what I thought it did growing up.

As I said, good day to ask the question.

The Mad Dance

Last evening I and the other women on the team leading the Ignatian Colleagues Program five-day retreat offered a prayer service titled In the Voices of Women.  It included song, scripture, readings, a litany to anonymous women, a beautiful ritual of flower offering.

As part of the service, I shared a short piece written by my now-deceased mother-in-law back in 1932, when she was 18 years old.  Even then, she was an extraordinary women in so many ways.

Someone last night said to me, “That piece you read should be published.”  The comment prompted me to share it here with you.  I do so with love, admiration, and gratitude for all Mom/Betty/Nana gave to all of us who were part of her family

Here is the story written by Elizabeth Rocky (later Drueding), on February 12, 1932:

The Mad Dance

             In a small village, once upon a time, a group of young men assembled to see who could excel in dancing.  Every family in that village had a father or a son participating in the contest; and the excitement was high.

            When the dance began, each contestant felt light-hearted and sure that he could win.  As each one watched his neighbors, however, he quickened his pace and lost some of his jaunty self-assurance in the effort to excel.

            At first, the onlookers laughed and joked, citing the abilities of one and the awkwardness of another.  Soon, however, the dancers were whirling around feverishly, until the dance was frenzied.

            The spectators, realizing that their husbands, and fathers, and sons had worked themselves up to a dangerous, uncontrollable pace, became worried.  Suppose that one should fall and be trampled on by the others!  Suppose that the dancers should whirl themselves into the midst of the onlookers!

            After some discussion, all the women ran to their houses and returned with pans and ladles.  Huddled in an excited group they caught the rhythm of the mad dance and beat it out with their pots and pans.  Gradually, they decreased the rhythm until the dancers, conscious of the outside influence, slowed and finally stopped.

            Surely the women were ingenious.  Maybe women always are.  Maybe they ought to start beating out the rhythm of world peace on their pots and pans.


What We Learn From Mary and Elizabeth

I’m at my “happy place,” the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh,, where I’m one of the directors on a directed retreat.  Today, on this feast of the Visitation, I had the privilege of offering a reflection at our afternoon Mass.

I began my reflection by talking about the graced encounter between Mary and Elizabeth recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  We take for granted that description, and don’t tend to imagine how differently it might have transpired if the enemy spirit had taken hold.

Mary had just been told by the angel that she will bear the Son of God.  Had pride arisen Mary might have thought to herself, “If Elizabeth and I are going to see each other, it ought to be she who travels to see me, not me who undertakes the arduous journey. After all, I’m the one carrying the King, and he is way more important than her baby.”

And Elizabeth, might have been filled with envy and jealousy, thinking “I’m the older one and I’m married to a priest. Why does Mary (who is betrothed to a carpenter) gets to birth the #1 child and I only gets the messenger.  Surely I’m at least as good as she is.”

There were some smiles and a couple of laughs among the retreatants at that description, but we’ve all had enough experience of human encounters marred by pride, jealousy and envy to be able to imagine the possibilities.

Instead what happens is that the young woman who has just learned that she is to bear the Christ immediately runs off to be of help to her older cousin who is with child.   And the older woman herself welcomes with joy the younger cousin who has been chosen to bear the more important of the two children.

And although we are told only that Mary remained with Elizabeth for some months, we can imagine what must have transpired between those two women during those months.   We can imagine Mary helping Elizabeth with chores….Elizabeth counseling and reassuring the younger woman…the two pregnant women working, sitting, talking, planning together.  Mary putting her hand on Elizabeth’s belly when the baby in her womb moves.  Elizabeth sharing tips on dealing with morning sickness.  The two women sharing laughs, and perhaps some tears.  Neither pride in the one nor jealousy in the other.   Just two women each lovingly giving the other what she needs.  Two women loving each other “with mutual affection,” as Paul puts today’s first Mass reading.

It is an incredibly beautiful model of graced human relationship.  And it is one worth thinking about because if we are going to be as Christ in our world, it matters how we relate to others.  With pride and superiority?  Or with humility and joy?  With envy and jealousy or with rejoicing in each other’s fortune.

I also spoke about another aspect of today’s Gospel: When Mary arrives, Elizabeth sees what is not yet visible, immediately recognizing the presence of Christ – the promise of Christ in her.  Elizabeths words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” prompt Mary’s proclamation of the Magnificat, which itself points to what is not yet present.  She speaks in present tense of things that are certainly not apparent in the world in which she lived.  “He has thrown down the rulers…he has lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry with good things.”

I referenced Leonard Cohen’s song Everybody Knows (which I call is the anti-Magnificat).  Its lyrics include lines like everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody knows the good guys lost, everybody knows the fight is fixed, everybody knows the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich., everybody knows the deal is rotten, everybody knows the plague is coming.  The refrain that keeps being repeated over and over again in between such lines is: That’s how it goes, everybody knows.

As songs go, it is a pretty accurate appraisal of how things look in our world.  The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich.  The deal is pretty rotten.  And climate change may result in something much worse than the plague.

What we as Christians say is that may be how it is, but it is not how it has to be.  Not how it will be.  One of our significant roles is to be beacons of hope in our troubled world.  We are called precisely to see what is not yet visible and to point to that, to share it with our world.

That is not always easy.  There are times when I get deeply depressed about the state of our church, our country, our world, and I’m guessing I am not alone in that.  And in those moments the enemy spirit whispers “That’s just how it goes.  Everybody knows.  Give up hoping otherwise.  Just sink into the despair.”

And in those moments, we want to remember Mary and Elizabeth.  To see with the eyes of faith what is not yet present but which we know will be.  And to take our place in working with God to make it so.

I ended my reflection by sharing  a poem by Linda Jones, titled Dare to Hope. The words are:

We dare to imagine a world where hunger has no chance to show its face.
We dare to dream of a world where wars and terror are afraid to leave their mark.
We long to believe in a world of hope unchained and lives unfettered.
We dare to work for the creation of a world where your people are free from poverty.  Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done. Amen.

That is what we do: like Mary and Elizabeth, we dare to hope. And we dare to share that hope with the world.

Visions of Mary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, a day that commemorates the appearance of Mary to three Portuguese shepherd children on this date in 1917.

Nearly 80,000 visions of Mary have been claimed since the first in about 395, about 2200 of which have received official recognition by the Catholic Church. Apparitions have been reported in every continent on the planet, by people from all walks of life and of every age, and in places ranging from cities and churches to homes, caves, and fields.

This subject of Marian apparitions is one to which many people in our modern world react with some level of embarrassment or, at least, a deep skepticism. We live in a rational world that relies on what can be demonstrated scientifically, where things like apparitions seem to fall into the category of close encounters of the bizarre kind.

But the truth is the God continually reaches out to each of us, sometimes dramatically and sometimes in simple ways. Our God is a self-communicating God who continually speaks to us.

Is it so strange or impossible to imagine that one of the vehicles God might use to communicate with us is a vision of Mary, whom he chose to be the mother of Christ? So perhaps, rather than suspicion, our stance should be one of openness to the breadth of ways God might speak to us, including the possibility of God speaking to us through Mary.

Whether you believe in apparitions or not,, the day encourages us to be open to God’s continuous desire to communicate with us.

Spring Cleaning

Yes, I said “spring” cleaning, even though here in the Twin Cities, we have had too few days that have actually felt like spring.  But I’m prompted in the subject by a piece I read this morning on the Ignatian Spirituality website by Vinita Hampton Wright, whose posts often inspire me.

Wright suggests that our spring cleaning needs to be as much about our interior life as about our physical environment.  She writes

 If we are to tend our interior world with care and wisdom, we cannot be distracted by the exterior world. We can live in large houses with lots of rooms and furniture and “stuff” and yet be free to sit still and think or pray. We can live in simpler surroundings but not feel free at all because the rooms are cluttered or dirty or both. Regardless of the size or grandeur of your dwelling place, it can nurture your inner life or frustrate it.

Her suggestion is to take some time to sit in a room where we spend a lot of our time and ask questions like:  “How does it feel? Are you distracted by piles of magazines or unfinished projects? Is it time to clean or change—or throw out—the curtains? Does the arrangement of furniture make it difficult to move freely? Does it hamper your access to good reading light or to fresh air?”

She goes on to suggest

Bring your true self to your rooms, and clear your rooms of what is not true to who you (or you and your loved ones) are.

  • What’s the best decision you’ve ever made about your physical home?

  • What one piece of advice would you offer to someone about to spring clean?

What is your spring cleaning going to look like?